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From the turn of the century until the 1960s, poor people with civil and criminal legal problems generally got help at Legal Aid Society offices staffed by volunteers from law firms. Edward Sparer had a different vision – one of legal services for the poor, governed by the people served, and devoted to challenging the institutional structures that create and maintain poverty. Sparer pioneered the concept of neighborhood law offices in low-income communities and founded the first such program, Mobilization for Youth Legal Services, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1963. Two years later, Sparer’s vision went national, when Congress adopted his ideas and funded a nationwide network of community-controlled legal service programs for the poor that continues to this day. It is for good reason that Sparer is known as the father of poverty law.

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